Reputation Management or Helping Your Organization Manage Its Reputation


Disgraced politicians and tarnished reputations are on my radar lately. It’s on my mind lately as former Attorney General of Ontario Michael Bryant is rehabilitating his reputation in a tell-all book after his car was involved in killing a cyclist. Being trustworthy and trusting are components of a good reputation, according to Rick Powers. Powers was the keynote speaker at this year’s Canadian Association of Law Libraries conference. He was a corporate lawyer and currently is a senior lecturer at Rotman school of management, University of Toronto.

It would be interesting what Powers would say about the polarizing figure of Michael Bryant.  Reputations can be damaged through an interaction of broken trust, questionable ethics, damaged integrity and circumstances. We see these factors tied together in business corruption cases. One develops trust through competence, benevolence and integrity. All are important factors for an honorable or good reputation. In a business environment trust exists across groups or hierarchies in an organization; potentially it can affect relationships with stakeholders, too.

Generally people have a tendency toward trusting others. But what happens if you have an inclination to trust more, or at the other extreme, be skeptical (or low trust)? In an interesting study involving people who interviewed subjects that lied, those in the high trust group could pick out liars more easily as they had been burned in the past with lying so they could reveal the liars better than the low trust or skeptical group. The latter group, which had blanket mistrust  of subjects then, expected lies from many of them, surprisingly fared worse at picking out the liars.

Case study: Take the example of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey who chatted anonymously on investment  forums where he attacked a competitor, Wild Oats Markets, and questioned the validity of its stock prices. Later Whole Foods bought Wild Oats Markets.  Was Mackey acting unethically or illegally? Potentially his actions could have been illegal contravening U.S. securities laws and manipulating the stock prices. Should he be fired for fixing the market? One of the ramifications is that the tone from the top executives sets the ethical tone for the rest of the company. So things don’t bode well.

One of the commenters Bill Gammell takes the angle of ex-Wild Oats Markets employees, who may work for CEO Mackey after takeover.  As they have no experience with him, his attacks on their former company may tend to develop frustration or outright hostility. Another theme is that Mackey is attempting to be transparent and talk openly to his customers…but perhaps too openly as it may upset shareholders.

The significance of case study is about the balance of maintaining a good reputation through developing trust with many stakeholders. Managing a good reputation involves identifying who needs to trust you and who you need to trust. This appears to be  similar to the managing up principle.

More fascinating facts on building trust and bolstering good reputations in Part 2, including crisis management when reputations take a serious blow.

– Brenda Wong


2 Responses to “Reputation Management or Helping Your Organization Manage Its Reputation”

  1. 1 Armin Portele

    There are more and more websites cropping up that deal with a different search algorithm than Google, dealing directly with people and their reputation management, such as You can visit them, type in any topic or company, and it will list any people associated with it!

  2. Sorry, I typed in the wrong email by accident!

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